First thing out of the box, I want to thank Jamie for giving me the opportunity to temporarily blog here as my own site continues its “recovery” while passed out on the bathroom floor of the blogosphere. This is, if anything, the definitive chance for me to learn the proper spelling of my host’s first name.
I wanted to start not with rehashing all the developments and arguments of the recent ENDA debacle, but a quote I read this morning on the Daily Dish by Salon columnist Cass Sunstein. In the run-up to the 2008 primaries, I admit to sharing in Andrew Sullivan’s infatuation with Barack Obama. This is despite the fact Obama often places dead last for me in those online political quizzes that ask you questions of policy you’ve never discussed outside of an office Christmas party involving eight or nine mai tais. So why the appeal? Partially because of an attitude that Sunstein points out:
“[Obama] has an amazing line in the “Audacity of Hope” where he says, roughly, there are feminists in the United States who mourn their own abortions, and there are conservative women who have paid for their friends’ daughters’ abortions. And the reason I think this is so great is that it breaks down a sense that Americans come in two types.”
There is a temptation in American politics to stereotype, to believe in monolithic entities, to see groups of people as omni-representative of certain ideologies. On a national scale, this impulse has lead to the increasing polarization of American political thought. The schism of Right/Left Baby Boomer politics begun in the 1960s has had over four decades to overwhelm and ensnare political discourse. There is Right-Left, liberal-conservative, hawk-dove, gay-straight.
But this pigeonholing of people runs deeper than simply being applied to the “other”. We have begun condemning ourselves to the stereotype. We have made ourselves the other. When the ENDA debate is a distant memory, the one lingering question will and should be – How did the 360 gay rights organizations who constitute United ENDA veer so radically away from what an overwhelming majority of gay Americans supported?
Matt Foreman of the Task Force released the usual denunciation when ENDA passed the House this week. His statement reads in part:
“We are deeply disappointed that House leadership decided to ignore the position of a vast majority of LGBT organizations, ignore the legal assessment that this bill may not even provide adequate protections for gays, lesbians and bisexuals, and ignore the fact that this vote might make it more difficult to persuade members of Congress to support a fully inclusive bill in the future.”
What is missing here? I’ll tell you. The actual people this law affects. Mr. Foreman could not say the House leadership ignored the position of the vast majority of LGBT Americans. So he didn’t. He hopes no one will notice his organization and many others like it are currently being stripped of their self-assumed authority to speak for that 70%.
The Matt Foremans of the world are Gay. They are the stereotype, the uniform ideology, the label, the identity, the political monolith, the Voice of Authority. They believe they are the Deciders of the gay community.
You and I? We’re just gay. We’re conservatives, liberals, and centrists. We’re Christians, Atheists, and Muslims. We’re sports fanatics and celebrity obsessers. We’re bankers and janitors and teachers and politicians. We’re effeminate and masculine and everything in between. The overwhelming majority of gay Americans are not Gay. We’re not a stereotype, we’re not all of one mind, and we are currently not represented in any competent and accurate fashion by any national organization that believes it Represents us.
Like the right-wing, the Foremans are trying to make us Gay not only in our own eyes, but in the eyes of the rest of the country. They tell the rest of the world that we are all Gay. They send out press releases and hold events and attend gala dinners all with the aim of saying that we are uniform, a hive mind, a “diverse” collection of millions of human beings who share not only identical political goals, but identical policy goals and identical worldviews.
Families are not changed because they have a Gay son or daughter. They are changed by a gay son or daughter. The corporate environment does not evolve because a Gay activist dictates to them what must be done. Corporate environments evolve because millions of gay workers have made themselves known. One seventeen year-old coming out in a rural southern town of three hundred people is more powerful, courageous, and effective than a year’s worth of celebrity cocktail parties attended by the HRC board of directors.
The 70% have long allowed the gay establishment to paint us Gay. It never mattered. Now that it has become important, however, we have been told to sit down and shut up. We are labeled bigots, transphobic, outside of the gay mainstream, and traitors to the community by our own representatives.
The question before us is how do we take back what it means to be gay in this country? How do we generate gay leaders who see us not as a political monolith, a cash cow, a stepping stone to their own power and self-importance, but people who are incorporating their sexual orientation into their lives in a million different ways?
Where is the Barack Obama of the gay community? Where is the gay leadership that sees gay Americans not as blank human beings who strictly share their ideology, but an actual diverse group of individuals?
How do we fire the gay establishment when what they’re establishing has nothing more to do with us?